To finish up our preseason previews of each position groups we'll take a look at the Bigs. We have some returning underclassmen and a few new faces. So how are things looking in the Cal front-court?
Kodiak: Cal should get a huge boost defensively and on the boards with the return of Richard Solomon. From what little we saw of him last year, his offensive game was still a work in progress. He's so athletic that he's sometimes tempted to do too much; ie. drive or take pull-up jumpshots instead of just establishing himself down low. It'll be interesting to see what another year of work on his footwork and post moves has done.
David Kravish was one of the best young bigs that Cal has had in a very long time. Usually, true frosh post players set records for getting saddled on the bench with foul trouble. He showed a real knack for using his length to block shots and as well as a nice touch around the basket on offense. With another year to get stronger and put on some good weight, he could form a really nice tandem with Solomon.
Robert Thurman was more than solid as a reserve big. He moves well without the ball and showed the ability to finish when set up. He might not match up well against some of the quicker post players in the league, but he has the size and bulk to be really valuable against the bruisers. I'd expect a nice senior campaign from him.
Christian Behrens was slowed by injury last year. Unfortunately, he burned his blue shirt without making a lot of contribution on the court. He showed off some length and athleticism that we were otherwise lacking in the post. If he can figure out where he needs to be in our sets, he's a candidate to back up both in the post and on the wing.
Bak Bak is a nice guy who has worked hard to get stronger. Missing Cal's pre-season Euro trip really set him back last year. He's always had a nice jumpshot. The issue has been consistency on defense. It would be really nice to see the light come on and have him play with confidence.
With Sami Elarky not qualifying, Khalil Johnson and Kaileb Rodriguez are the incoming bigs. Johnson is more of a 3/4 tweener who is likely to blue shirt. Rodriguez is a power forward known for his athleticism and upside. He's another likely candidate to blue shirt.
For all the depth problems we've had the past several years, Cal might actually have some size to rely upon this year if players continue to develop. We might see more high post sets, high-low looks, and inside-out ball movement than relying on just our perimeter game. Monty always does nice work with his bigs, so there's a lot to be excited about here.
NorCalNick: I've been an unabashed Richard Solomon booster for a good long while now, and his return to the team is the #1 reason for optimism this year. Even without Solomon Cal did well on the boards because David Kravish and Allen Crabbe stepped up. Throw Solomon into the mix and Cal could end up being an elite rebounding team, particularly on the defensive glass.
What will be interesting to see is how much Solomon's offensive game has grown after a long layoff. He'll get his points in transition and when guards set him up for easy baskets. Has he developed a stronger back-to-the-basket game? If so it would add a nice dimension to Cal's offense, though I'm not necessarily counting on it.
LeonPowe: From my fellow CGB writers I see a lot of references to post play and back to the basket .. . and I'd say two things: 1. We have a lot of depth in the front court. With Solomon, Kravish, Behrens, Bak, The Thurminator - that's a decent 5 man rotation with a potential breakout star in Solomon. 2. Post play? Back to the basket moves? Basketball in 2012 has moved beyond that with stretch 4's and even 5s extending the defense. In the Pac-12 how many real old school post players are there? Josh Smith? Brock Motum? The new direction of basketball - high pick and rolls or pick and fades with your centers. I'm not worried - as long as they can face-up, do rim runs and protect the rim on defense. I have become a convert to the no-post play necessary face of 2012 basketball. The Miami Heat won the championship with Chris Bosh taking 17 footers. Kentucky won a national championship with Anthony Davis flying around, grabbing offensive boards, blocking shots - but not catching the ball in the post and doing drop steps and up-and-unders or any classic post moves - or at least that wasn't his dominant mode of scoring.
I also believe that Christian Behrens is going to be much-improved this season. He's a hard worker who showed some flashes of his talent during the 2011-2012 campaign. Another off-season with Montgomery will definitely help him develop the necessary consistency to earn some meaningful minutes on a regular basis.
Kravish is a quintessential Monty big guy. Smart, fundamentally sound, good rebounder, does little things well. I expect he will be an improved player over his frosh season, so that can only be good.
Sure, we can get quality minutes out of Thurman and maybe Behrens and Bak. But Solo and Kravish will be the stalwarts, I think, as far as our big men go.